Published: March 18, 2016
MOUNT LEBANON, N.Y. — The Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon has received a gift of the Shaker pieces collected and used by Ellsworth Kelly and his husband Jack Shear. The collection was promised to the museum in 2011, following the museum’s honoring of Kelly and Shear at its annual benefit event.
Ellsworth Kelly passed away on December 27, 2015.
The collection of 24 pieces includes cupboards, tables, boxes, trays, and a cast iron stove. The pieces represent several time periods and originated at a number of Shaker communities: Watervliet and Mount Lebanon, N.Y., and Hancock, Mass., are included, among others. Of particular note is Kelly’s Shaker work table, which he actively used for many decades.
The gift is the result of a long relationship between the museum and Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear, who shared an interest in the Shakers and their material culture. Over the past several decades, they collected Shaker pieces to furnish their home in Spencertown, N.Y., and had visited the museum’s collection in nearby Old Chatham.
The Shaker Museum’s new executive director Lacy Schutz said, “It’s wonderful to see these pieces find a permanent home here. I’ve long admired Ellsworth’s work and I’m sorry I never had the opportunity to meet him. He and Jack have been great friends to this organization.”
In 1991, Jack Shear curated an exhibition at the museum titled “Shaker Images: Photographs from the Archives of the Shaker Museum & Library,” which ran from April 27 through June 19 of that year, and included a bi-fold “catalog” that could be cut apart to create usable postcards. The following year, he exhibited his own photography at the museum in “New Light: A Contemporary View of Shaker Architecture.” In 2011, a 15-minute film titled Kindred Aesthetics: Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village, Ellsworth Kelly & Jack Shear, was produced by Checkerboard Films featuring Kelly at home discussing his Shaker collection and Shear reminiscing about the photographic work he had done at Mount Lebanon.
“It was a terrific experience working with Jack and Ellsworth on their gift to the Museum,” said Jerry
Grant, director of collections and research. “There are some extraordinary pieces that will help us tell the story of Shaker design, including a lozenge-shaped bent-wood box – one of Ellsworth’s favorite pieces – made in the tradition, but not the form, of the well-known Shaker oval boxes. While for Ellsworth it was reminiscent of a shape he had worked with in his paintings years before, for us it is an example of the Shakers adjusting their traditional designs, probably to accommodate some special need.”
The museum is open seasonally at the site from June to October, and offers programs year-round. For information, www.shakerml.org.
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